Baffin Island Solo Expedition 2009

In 2009 I made the trip of a lifetime to the Arctic, traveling alone to Canada’s Baffin Island for pure adventure. And that’s just what I found.

This is the report I posted once back from the trip. Enjoy-


Hey Friends,

I am back in Yosemite now, enjoying the great weather again. It’s nice to be hanging out with friends and climbing in temps that are actually above freezing! A few days ago, I returned from climbing and skiing in the frozen fiords of northeastern Baffin Island. This adventure was so amazing that I just had to share it with the rest of you, through this photo trip report.

Towards the end of March, I caught a flight from Sacramento headed to the arctic. After a few connections I was arriving in Clyde River, my jump off point for the fiords. Here is a pic of Clyde River from the air. It is a village of only 950 people, almost all Inuit-

The airport was just one small building, and the airplane had to land on a frozen runway that looked a bit sketchy, if you would have asked me at the time!

My Inuit outfitter, Levi Palituq, met me at the airport, and took me and all my gear into town and dropped us off where it was cool for me to camp out. Once set up on the outskirts of town, I had a day and a half to get my stuff ready for the trip out into the fiords. I made a trip to the store for more food, and was a bit surprised when I came to the ‘parking lot’ in front of the store-

All the Inuit use snowmobiles to get around for most of the year, and they were all lined up out front of the store while their owners stocked up on food and supplies. The next day Levi picked me up, we loaded all the gear onto the ‘komatik’ type sled they use and we were on our way. The temps when I arrived were about thirty five below zero, and in the wind it was almost a joke how cold it really was. Here is a pic of me bundled up, on the back of the machine as we make our way across the sea ice towards Sam Ford Fiord in cold conditions-

After about five hours of travel, we arrived into the Sam Ford area. We toured both sides of the fiord, as well as the Walker Arm, as I assessed the area and formulated a plan on where I would like to be dropped off at. I also got a good look at the peaks I would like to try and climb. I decided to put my base camp between the Turret and Polar Sun Spire, at the foot of an immense glacier where it tumbles into the sea ice (but not too close!).

My rough plan for the trip was to ski around and explore the area for most of April, checking out all the walls and ski descents. Then try for some more technical routes and adventures during May once the temps rise. I made many ski forays to the walls and couloirs in my area, and found some nice options for climbing. It was a skier’s paradise.

Polar Sun Spire north face (1,500 meters)-

Beluga Spire North face (1,400 meters)-

Great Cross Pillar south face (800 meters)-


Sometimes when the snow was windblown and hard, I would put the skis onto my sled and pull them rather than skin along with them on my feet. The sled would pull quite easily, even when loaded down with tons of climbing gear. One day while out skiing on the sea ice, I came across these fox tracks-

I Found this seal hole as well-

And you do know what lives in these, right? Ring Seals!

Base camp was quite a nice place to always come back to and rest at. Every time I stuck my head out from the tent, it was almost unbelievable. The views were amazing-

And occasionally I would have visitors! Some times the Inuit hunters and fisherman would pass by my camp and hang out for a coffee, snack, or quick conversation. This day happened to bring along an older couple, who happily supplied me with a 15lb arctic char, similar to a salmon. I was amazed and psyched at getting fresh meat out there! Many times the Inuit would pass by and give me fish, or offer caribou and seal.

After a week or two of being there a few new friends showed up. Before I left Clyde River, I had met these three Scandinavian girls who were skiing almost from one end of the island to the other! (Their website is- I told them to drop by my camp if they were going past my way, and they did-

There were now four of them (the fourth joined up with the team the day after I met the other three), and they came and stayed with me for a few days. So we celebrated their arrival with a big salmon dinner, pizzas, brownies, and cookies!

After a rest day, the five of us decided that we would all climb together to the summit of the area’s highest summit- Broad Peak (1,800+ meters). This summit, which is surrounded on three sides by giant walls, has a ski-mountaineering route up its south side. Here is a pic of Inga making her way up the first moraine, packing some heat!

Skiing across a flat section of the glacier-


Just below the summit, looking back at the ‘Baffin Babes’-

The climb went quite well and was pretty easy, and also had an awesome ski descent to get back to camp- 1,800 meters of descent to be precise! But my toes paid the price. My ski boots were not really up for -30 temps, and I got moderate frostbite on my two big toes. It was not so bad at first, but the injury would get worse as time went on, and gave me big problems when I started climbing a bit later.

After a rest day, we all headed for the Stewart Valley. They would be continuing on their ski route through this amazing valley, and I decided to go towards the Stewart for a few days as well. We packed up, and made our way on the one and a half day trek, passing under Walker Citadel along the way-

We found a nice spot to make camp after skiing about 11 miles that afternoon. I found a good place to put up my lightweight bivy tent next to a boulder to help block the wind-

The following day I saw the Babes continue on their way, while I followed a mother polar bear and her cub through the upper Walker Arm of the fiord. I was concerned they might eat all my food at my base camp as they passed back towards the open sea and my camp, so I trailed them to make sure they passed without incident. As they passed my camp, it seemed they wanted nothing to do with it, and swung wide around. But if they would have started some crap, I had my .303 to make sure everything turned out OK!

A shot to show what a slight breeze will do to your face while out on the fiord! –

Two of my favorite visitors that I had, were these two-

The husband, #55, would drive the machine, while his wife traveled in the small cabin on the sled! She had a bed inside, and even a heater with a small chimney/vent! How cool.

Eventually May came around, the temps increased slightly, and I decided to start climbing.

When I showed up, it was almost impossible to figure out what walls I wanted to climb as there are so many. There were over 20 virgin big walls to choose from just this area alone! During my first few weeks there, I would ski around and scope out the biggest unclimbed formations. One of the most beautiful virgin walls caught my attention, and was quite close to camp too. The Beak is this beautiful overhanging wall that had excellent rock on its east face, and there was even a nice set of seams running down from the summit! I loaded up the sled, and took the ropes and rack to the base to make a big wall first ascent of this aid route. But the next day I was having some difficulties with my decision to climb the Beak. Yes, it is a beautiful wall, I told myself, but it was ‘only’ 650 meters long.

Now one must remember that 650 meters of steep rock would be a gem of a climb almost anywhere else (Half Dome is 650 meters at its tallest), but here in Baffin it doesn’t even catch your eye as you pan around in this fiord of giants! I knew I could do it if I tried, and this was the exact reason I couldn’t go through with it.

From the beginning of the trip, I had told myself that this was not just another climbing trip. I wanted to go further than I ever had before. Both in terms of distance and solitude, as well as climbing something so big and difficult that the odds would be stacked so high against me that success would be nearly impossible. This way, it would ensure adventure and uncertainty.

I looked for other routes once I listened to my heart scream in protest to the ‘little’ big wall of the Beak. I found two routes that looked nice to me- the north face of Beluga Spire and the north face of Broad Peak.

Beluga Spire was not only one of the most beautiful formations there; it is most likely one of the last unclimbed 1,300+ walls in the fiord. It’s impressive north face rises directly from the sea for 1,400 meters! It has been base jumped, but never climbed or even attempted! There was also a pretty obvious line too. A system of three stacked pillars rose from the sea ice, and led right to the top. The route was obvious, with cracks from base to summit. I decided to take with me one haul bag and a second dynamic rope to haul it with, but no bolts, poratledge, or static rope. So I racked up for the ascent, and sledded it all to the base early one morning.

Gear for Beluga Spire

I started up the initial mixed pitches, which started out pretty easy, about M4 5.7. Here is a shot looking up the first roped pitch. If you look closely, you can see the lead rope on the pitch-

The climbing was going pretty well, mostly mixed climbing protected by pins hammered on lead. But upon arriving at the foot of the first pillar, I was disappointed to find loose flakes plastered in the crack/O.W. system I wanted to climb. The entire route appeared to be super clean and awesome, except this first 200 meters of the first pillar. Not giving up, I saw a second smaller pillar to the left that I could ascend, and then gain the top of the original pillar from the left. The down side was that I needed to climb a few more pitches of difficult mixed ground to gain the pillar to the left, protection looked slim to none in the vertical gully system.

I climbed two vertical pitches of mixed terrain, climbing under chockstones and tunneling through dangerously loose powder mushrooms to arrive near the top of the mixed climbing. Here is another pic of the mixed climbing, this pitch being more like M6 or so-

I had not expected so much mixed climbing up to this point, and it was affecting me in a negative way. My frostbitten toes (from Broad Peak) had been climbing for three days now on Beluga Spire, and were not doing well. They had swelled up quite drastically, and the frost bite blisters were growing and popping all the time. At the top of the mixed stuff, I tried to put on my free shoes and get onto the rock fin. I could kind of squeeze my feet into the free shoes, but the toes were full of pain and would go numb within minutes of climbing. At this point frustration was setting in. I had traveled so far to get here and climbed over 650 meters of the route already, spending three days on the wall. But now I couldn’t bust free moves in my rock shoes because of my hurting toes! Defeat was obviously upon me. But not without one more try at the rock pitch above! A 20-foot factor 2 fall right back onto the belay was what I was rewarded with for trying to climb without being able to feel my toes.

I ended up trying the route again a week later. This time I left behind the second rope, haul bag, and the third set of cams and pins, but made it only 500 meters up on my second day of climbing, to be turned back by problems with my toes again. After that, I took two weeks to ski and explore, and let my toes have the time to recover that they needed.

That next week, five skiers from the south of France showed up, and stayed with me for a week of skiing and hanging out. Here is a pic of them arriving back to camp after being out skiing for the day-

These guys were pretty cool, and it was really nice to hang out with other humans after being alone for so long. But they were only here for a week, and soon after, I was alone again….

But I was now ready to have some fun again, as my toes were almost healed. So I went out and checked the Turret and Broad peak for possible new routes. Here is a pic of the east face of the Turret-

Before I could start the climbing missions again, I met four base jumpers that were camped on the other side of the fiord from me. These guys were from France and Quebec, and had all the toys with them- Base-jumping rigs, snowmobile, skis, and to my surprise- a kite ski set up! Matthew, one of the guys from Quebec, would let me take out his kite ski wing on my skis whenever I wanted to use it! These guys were awesome! I took the rig out many times, and was racing around the fiords at 40 mph! One day I covered over 25 miles in just over one hour! You had to keep your eyes open and your jumping skills on the ready, as the leads in the sea ice would give you a nice hazard as you raced over them! Here are a few pics of the kite ski-

Launching the kite below Polar Sun Spire


Flying the wing below the Turret


Kiting upwind in front of the Cross Pillar

Looking back at base camp, which is just at the lower left corner of Polar Sun Spire

One of the ever increasing leads in the sea ice

These guys I met were pretty nuts. And for me to say this- it really means something! Here are some pics of them hucking off Polar Sun that I took while picking them up with their snowmobile-

After all of these adventures, time was getting short. I had only one more week on the island, and temps and conditions were better than ever, so obviously it was time to climb again. My toes were OK, as I could now put them into free shoes and use them without too much pain!

I went up to the north face of Broad Peak, to scope out a 1,400 meter arête/face that dropped down perfectly from the summit. It was such an obvious line- why had it not been climbed yet? But that answer was obvious- I was the only climber in the northern part of the island this year, and I would be surprised if more than two teams a year come here. With so many walls, and so few climbers, there will be an abundance of new routes to be done for many years to come!

On my way back down from scoping out the line, I quickly noticed that I was not alone this day on the glacier. A polar bear had found my tracks leading away from my camp and up onto the glacier, and followed them up to find his next meal. As soon as I came upon this sight, I had my rifle in my hands, with a bullet in the chamber at the ready. I carefully made my way back to camp-

The next day I set out for the wall. It was snowing lightly at this point, but I hoped for it to decrease before setting out on the route itself. But luck wasn’t with me. Snow was falling harder than ever, and conditions were getting worse. And to top it off, temps had gone up to near freezing, so the snow pack was going crazy! Wet slab avalanches started to rip on all the slopes, regardless of aspect or angle! I stashed the rack at the base of the route because the avalanche danger was so bad. I wanted to climb regardless, but knew how uncontrollable avalanches can be. Huge cracks were shooting out from my skis on slopes with angles in the 30 to 40 degree area, and I definitely took notice.

I came back two days later, to find that my tracks had been totally wiped out by a huge avalanche. The entire slope had gone, and had wiped out most of my tracks to the base!

Now the coast was clear- the slope had slid, and had nothing left to throw at me. I made my way to the route, which was in perfect condition. True, it was 8pm as I started, but with the sun just spinning around the sky and never going down, it really doesn’t matter at what times you climb!

I had chosen a difficult and beautiful route on the north side of the peak. A few pitches of great mixed climbing led to a razor sharp arête, which I took up to the only easy section on the route- a easy snow slope for 200 vertical meters, which led to the headwall. You could skip some sections on snow, others you had to climb.

Here is a pic that I took from the top of the snowfield, just at the base of the headwall. The route takes the crack to the right side of the pillar in the pic-

Looking down the snowfield from the headwall-

A shot of the route from the glacier-

The route was amazing! Mostly all free up to the headwall at 5.8 M5 60 degrees, but then the business started on the headwall itself. Seven pitches of aid up to A3, with one desperately hard mandatory free section at maybe 5.10+ (slab move to rounded mantel) led to the summit ice arête. This time, my toes were fine. I could not feel them.

From the summit, the view was amazing! Here is a shot from the top-

In the end the route turned out to be VI 5.10 A3 60 degrees, 1,450 meters. It took me 39 hours nonstop, camp-to-camp. No bolts used on route, with only two equalized beaks left on route for a diagonal rappel to gain another system. No other gear or garbage was left on the peak, as I descended the south face to get back to my skis.

It seemed to me that I could have stayed in Baffin forever, but eventually it came time to head home. An Inuit hunter named ‘Leslie’ came to pick me up from my little home in the fiords, after 65 days of sea ice living. So we loaded the sled, took one last look at my arctic home and buzzed away.

By now the  leads in the sea ice were over two meters wide, making for very exciting jumps on the snowmobile or tedious detours to get around them.

Once we got out of the fiords, spectacular icebergs frozen into the open sea ice greeted us-

In the end, Leslie took me back to his house to let me use his shower (thank god!) and email. I had to tell the family I was still alive! Here is a shot of Leslie with one of his recent kills. Like I said before- These Inuit guys are RAD!!!

My trip to the arctic was about 70 days of pure adventure. I had high expectations for the trip, but was blown away by what I actually saw and experienced. Many different people and companies helped me out to make this trip a reality, and I would like to thank them. The American Alpine Club was super generous, awarding me a Lyman Spitzer Cutting Edge grant to help me along with this trip. These guys are awesome, and all climbers need to take a moment, and a few dollars, and join this great organization!

Also I would like to thank my sponsors for continuing to believe in me, and for contributing to this trip. Big thanks to Black Diamond, MSR/Thermarest, Asolo, Osprey, Five.Ten, Backpackers Pantry, GU, and the North Face. You guys rock! Many people helped me out with info such as Mark Synnott, Brad Barlage, Odd Roar Wiik, and Levi Palituq. Thanks guys!



-Dave Turner


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